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Tom Fey called out to the nation of USTA tennis players and 250 of them showed up! His invitation read: “The BNP Paribas Open Tri-Level Championships is a doubles competition in which each of the 17 USTA Sections will be provided the opportunity to send a Team representing its Section to compete over the final weekend of the BNP Paribas Open. Each Team will be comprised a minimum of 12 players (6 men and 6 women) providing for one doubles team per gender in the 3.5, 4.0 and 4.5 ability levels to a maximum of 24 players (12 men and 12 women).”


What is so special about this event that makes so many players pay a lot of money for registration ($125 per player), transportation, accommodation, and meals? Yours truly was on a mission to find out this year, folks. It was my third time as staff member on the tournament desk together with Tom Fey, Tournament Director of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, his friend Roger from Denver, Ali from Los Angeles, and Charles from Hawaii. From the Thursday night Captains Meeting to the match play, and from the Saturday night Player’s Party to the official Awards Ceremony, everything was carefully planned and executed with the professional routine one can expect from such a grand organization. In between helping at the Tournament Desk I was able to watch a few very competitive Tri-Level matches, had courtside seats at the BNP Paribas Open, played some tennis, and met a bunch of real nice people from 15 Sections of the USTA nationwide.




Some of the photos I took are uploaded to my Facebook page (Rich Neher) at!/album.php?aid=2037657&id=1490713760.

Sorry for the quality, folks. I guess you just can’t compare a Blackberry to a Nikon camera.



Here is my list of reasons that make the BNP Paribas Open Tri-Level Championships so special for its participants:



1. Indian Wells Tennis Garden

One of the most beautiful tennis centers in the country with 21 Championship courts and a 16,000 seat stadium – everyone loves to play here! Three of the outer courts were converted to stadiums with anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 seats. Other lower courts have some seating capacity, all in a wide open space environment with snow covered mountains in the background.



2. BNP Paribas Open

Touted as the “5th Grand Slam event”, or the “Grand Slam of the West”, the BNP Paribas Open is the fifth most attended tennis tournament next to the Grand Slams. It is one of the few major events combining both men and women over a two-week period on the ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA Tours, and it is the only tournament outside of the Grand Slams that passed the 300,000 attendees mark in 2007.



3. Indian Wells

Whether you are local tennis player from LA or San Diego, or you are traveling from snow and water ravaged parts of the country, the desert is a very special place for everyone. Quoting the City web site: “Located in the heart of Southern California’s Desert Resort Communities, the City of Indian Wells is all over the world recognized for its­ tranquil and luxurious resort environment.” March weather here is mostly great – dry, sunny and not too hot yet – with the occasional problem of strong winds like last year. The area offers fantastic restaurants, theaters, museums, and great hotels. For some visitors this is the proverbial oasis of tranquility, for others it’s a party town.



4. Tom Fey

Indian Wells Tennis Garden’s legendary Director of Tennis Tom Fey recently was given two prestigious awards, the USTA Recreational Coaches Workshop Trainer of the Year Award and the USTA/USPTA Community Service Award. Tom is a relentless supporter of Community Tennis, disadvantaged kids, Special Olympics, and all sorts of other good causes. His easy going but professional way of running events, paired with his sense of humor, is a recipe for success and the players know that.



5. Warm-up courts

Have you ever played a league tennis match with Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, and Justine Henin warming up right next to you for their next Championship matches? This can only happen in Indian Wells, and is considered almost a perk for Tri-Level participants. At any given time you may be asked to play on a court adjacent to the BNP Paribas warm-up courts. On occasion some Tri-Level teams are actually bumped off their court by a tennis super star. How cool is that?



6. Level of play

The NTRP ratings levels represented at the BNP Paribas Open Tri-Level Championship are 3.5, 4.0, and 4.5. Remarkably, the matches are extremely competitive. No self-rated players are permitted to participate and, because the Tri-Level League is not yet a USTA Program with National Championship advancement, both Captains and players have not seen a need to show up with ringers. No one feels cheated by sandbaggers, no grievances need to be filed, no one is being DQ’d because they’re playing out of level. Makes for a delightful event where everyone thinks they have a good shot at the Championship crown.



7. Compass Draw format

From the tournament invitation: “Each doubles team will compete against the same ability and gender in separate Compass Draws. All matches will be the best of three sets with a Match Tiebreak being played in lieu of the 3rd set. Each match played will count and will accumulate points for the respective Section. Points will be awarded depending on the number of doubles teams in each compass draw.”



So, regardless if you win or lose your first match, your team will still be able to score valuable points for your Section in other parts of the Compass Draw. The Section that accumulates the highest total number of points will be crowned the BNP Paribas Open Tri-Level Champion and will be recognized accordingly.



8. Awards Ceremony

This one is huge, folks. Picture this: The BNP Paribas Open Women’s Singles final just finished and the Awards Ceremony is under way. The players from the winning Tri-Level team are assembling in the tunnel, ready to go on the court as soon as Jelena Jankovic has made her speech. Finally you get the sign and all of you trot out to Center Court. 10,000 people in the stadium watching Charlie Pasarell and Steve Simon congratulate you and present you with the BNP Paribas Open Tri-Level Championship crystal trophy, incidentally the same trophy presented to the Doubles winners of the Pro-event. 10,000 people applaud you and your team. Sweet!




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